State Park Series

State Park Series: Independence Along the Brazos

George Washington never came to Texas, but that didn't stop Texans from naming a town after him.

By Andrew Husband December 23, 2014

Washington-on-the-Brazos hosted the Convention of 1836 that brought Texas into formal existence.

The Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolution, the new nation's inaugural president and the alleged destroyer of innocent cherry trees, George Washington never visited the land that would eventually become Texas. He didn't survey the waters of the Buffalo Bayou, nor did he ever wade across the Brazos River. 

Despite these faults, the first Texans admired him enough to name a small, unincorporated town after him just off the Brazos, aptly named Washington-on-the-Brazos. Many felt this would distinguish it from the other, better known “Washington-on-the-Potomac.” They were right, but this little area 80 miles northwest of Houston is famous throughout the state not for its titular relations. It's where Texas (and Houston, by extension) began at the Convention of 1836.

That's why the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department decided to turn it into a historic site in 1916 with the purchase of 50 acres. After acquiring more land in 1976 and 1996, the Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site now sits on 293 acres of well-kept Texas-ness. Just like the Battleship Texas, this location's importance to the state parks system has nothing to do with recreation, and everything to do with being absolutely awesome. 

Unlike most state parks, Washington-on-the-Brazos doesn't charge guests an admissions fee. Instead, everyone is free to roam the grounds, breathing in the greatness that is Texas while practicing their everything's-bigger-where-I'm-from pomposity. What will cost money are the guided tours of the park's individual sites, as well as the entire complex. From the Barrington Living History Farm to the replica of Independence Hall – used by the convention delegates in 1836 – these tours provide Texans with a much-needed fountain of information.

These tours are given either by TPWD officials or volunteers, and both groups provide stellar educational experiences. But if you can get on with the volunteers, you're in for a good time as these men and women are Texas historical geniuses with a penchant for parades and period dress. On any given tour, guests often find themselves at the mercy of someone wearing 19th-century clothing. Luckily, the garments have usually been washed since then. 

The tours at Washington-on-the-Brazos are quaint spectacles.

Otherwise, Washington-on-the-Brazos plays host to a variety of annual events. From Christmas Candlelight ceremonies in early December, to demonstrations of winter preparation, these occasions give visitors yet another window into the past through which to look.

But the best part is the Independence Day Festival in March. No, not July. March. That's because Texas Independence Day falls on March 2, for that's the date on which convention delegates adopted the Texas Declaration of Independence in 1836. It also happens to be my birthday, which makes for a great story here in Texas — but is mostly meaningless abroad. 

The nightlife at Washington-on-the-Brazos is better than you think, especially on Texas' "Independence Day."

Every year, thousands congregate at the Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historical Site for a day of celebrations, historical reenactments, music and demonstrations. The day encapsulates everything one associates with a festival atmosphere, minus the drugs of a Glastonbury or the riots of Woodstock '99. Texas surely knows how to throw a party on its (and my) birthday. 

If, by some incandescent occurrence of principles known only to mathematically-based theoretical physics, George Washington were ever able to visit his Texas namesake today, he'd probably feel right at home. Especially if he finds the craft table specializing in new wooden dentures.

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